Help Sheet: Assessment Panels

The Takeaway: Grant assessment panels can be made up of any combination of a variety of stakeholders. The best composition for your organisation will depend on your particular situation, and things change, so it's worth reviewing it every now and again. Consider whether the assessment system you have in place really is effective, what problems you've experienced with it, and whether a full review is required.

What is an assessment panel?

The assessment panel is the group of people who read through the applications for your grants program and together recommend which applicants should receive grants. Typically they comprise elected representatives (ministers or councillors), the grantmaker's staff, community representatives, or some combination of these. The pros and cons associated with the various types of panels are laid out in detail later, but in summary:

  • Where elected representatives are involved, panel decisions can be guaranteed to pass final approval processes, but there is great scope for conflict of interest.
  • Staff have significant expertise to contribute, but they are more likely to be overridden before final approval.
  • Community representatives bring independence and grassroots expertise, but the administration of panels involving them is more complicated.

What does an assessment process look like?

Steps Actions
1. Culling Grants administration officer checks applications against program criteria and culls ineligible ones. Letters of explanation are sent to ineligible applicants, signed by the CEO or delegate.
2. Summary Grants administration officer develops summary of all eligible applications.
3. Committee Grants advisory committee is established, with representative(s) from other agencies, stakeholder groups, and an independent person. Agencies with a regional presence include regional staff. Larger agencies include program staff.
4. Assessment
Grants assessment panel assesses applications against criteria, using a standard template.
Reasons for decisions are documented.
5. Recommendation
Grants advisory committee makes recommendation to CEO or delegated officer, including details of procedures followed and selection criteria used.
6. Decision making
Minister, councillor or delegated officer approves decisions based on whether financial assistance is in line with program goals; costs and other aspects appear reasonable; sufficient funds are available; and the assessment is fully justified and documented.
Decisions and any variances on recommendations are recorded, with explanations provided for variances.
7. Announcement
Decisions are announced (publicly if required). Unsuccessful applicants are advised in writing, including reasons for lack of success.

Assessment panel representatives: the pros and cons

Elected Representatives (councillors, ministers)



  • Creates buy-in.
  • Reduces administrative overhead (if panel is made up exclusively of elected representatives).
  • Potential for horse-trading, politicisation of decisions.
  • Can create a high-pressure event, tension between staff and elected representatives.
  • No objective third parties involved.




  • Informed decision-making by those with a knowledge of the sector.
  • Allows for development of partnerships between staff and applicants.
  • Facilitates speedy response to applicants.
  • Reduces duplication of funding across the organisation.
  • Can be less expensive to administer than other models.
  • Enables more careful targeting of organisational priorities.
  • More flexibility in assessing applications.
  • Time-consuming.
  • More bureaucratic process.

Community Representatives



  • Creates a division between staff - who take inquiries and administer the program - and those who decide the outcomes. This allows staff to play an education/mentor role and avoid applicant lobbying.
  • Opinions/recommendations are more balanced.
  • Where there is a good mix, members cancel out each other's biases.
  • Gives the community a greater understanding of the funding process.
  • Reduces the potential for politicisation of decisions. Creates more transparency.
  • Time-consuming; highly administrative.
  • Potential conflicts of interest.
  • Can create tension between panel members.
  • Panel members may lack expertise about the process and/or the underlying issues.
  • Members can be led/lobbied by elected representatives.
  • Can be difficult to find people with the necessary skill/knowledge who will volunteer.
  • More time-consuming to administer - creates a two-step process if panel decisions must then be fed to the elected body for approval.